Q&A with Thomas Turner of Ghostland Observatory
After turning their hometown of Austin, Texas upside down on several occasions, Thomas Turner and Aaron Behrens continue to electrify audiences around the world as Ghostland Observatory with its vibrant stampede of symphonic blips and driving rock. We caught up with one of the group's masterminds, Thomas Turner, who talked about running Trashy Moped, the act's label, the balancing act of being a parent and being on the road, and how, to him, it sounds like the band sounds is playing in slow motion whenever Ghostland plays in Denver. Read the full interview after the jump.
Ghostland Observatory earlier this year at the Gothic Theatre.
Thomas Turner: I hope the weather is okay for us. We have to fly immediately out. This weekend, we fly to Denver play a show; next morning we fly to Tulsa, play a show; then fly to Tucson, play a show back to back.
Westword (Brian Frederick): You fly with all your gear?
TT: We backline the big stuff, like drums, amps, things like that, but the essentials like guitars, keyboards and the lasers, we bring all that.
WW: You do bring the lights then?
TT: Oh ya.
WW: In a few of your previous interviews you mentioned taking the winter off after the year is done and getting back in the studio; are there any ideas crossing your minds?
TT: There's always ideas flowing. I think once we get back to that and get back into 'focus mode,' things will start to appear. We put out three albums back to back to back, because we were writing a lot and working a lot on the music, as opposed to touring. After the last record, we just toured quite a bit, following Robotique Majastique, and then we were supposed to take a break last January and, uh, my studio wasn't finished. And we got a couple show offers, a couple festivals that went really well, and got a lot of offers from markets we hadn't played before, so we were like, "What the hell let's just do it." We decided to do a couple shows here and there, and it turned into a busier schedule than we had last year. So we just were like, 'Well, screw it. Let's just go all the way with it until the end of the year and then take a break and get back in writing mode and come back fresh.'
WW: This year's touring landed you guys in places like Portugal and Tokyo, clearly on opposite ends of the world. How receptive were fans of Ghostland Observatory?
TT: It was really cool! Portugal was cool. Tokyo was awesome. We just finished playing a show in Alaska, and that was crazy! We did a lot of shows in a lot of the southern states that we hadn't hit, and discovered we have tons of fans in the south, and did some shows in the Midwest, a place we hadn't been to either. We did a show in Mexico. It was really, really good. It was a lot of places we had never tried going into, and all the sudden, we got interest from people and places so we decided to go with it.
WW: You both are married with kids; it can't be easy being gone for so long.
TT: I mean, once you get on the road, luckily, we'll do these things where we'll play Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, or Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday -- and at least come home for a day and unpack. Then we have a day to pack, then leave again. Doing the plane travel definitely helps getting us back home, at least. We were in Portland Monday, and we got back last night, had a day to chill and then leave again for Denver. It's cool we can come home. I know some bands that take off for months at a time, so we'll take what we can get.
WW: Does having that schedule lend itself to maintaining your own label and taking charge of your schedule?
TT: Totally. We set up our own schedule and agree to it, and if something important is going on family style, we can work around that, as opposed to something like, "Hey you guys have a new record time to hit the road," or, "You've got radio station interviews at this time and you're doing shows here and doing them here." You know, just doing what you're told.
WW: When and if things slow down, are you planning on bringing in other bands to Trashy Moped?
TT: When I started the label -- well, even before I started the label, when I wanted to start a label -- I just wanted a small boutique label. Maybe something like Warped or something like that, where it's just cool tracks, just experimental stuff, cool stuff, not a whole book full of bands, just a few bands that are cool to work with and develop, to produce, or help along, or whatever, just something that's fun on the side. Things just got going so fast with Ghostland that, uh, I just ... [laughter] if I were trying to do Ghostland and run Trashy Moped and scout new talent, tour and produce other acts, I don't think I would make it, dude! I used to think I could do everything like that, you know, but then, like, especially with the touring, you start to realize your limits. You're like, "Ah man you just sometimes have to take a breather!"
WW: One of your main websites, GhostlandObservatory.net is, "...a fan site created and maintained by fans." Do you guys use this as a tool to connect with fans and get/give input?
TT: Actually, that's their whole deal. The guy that put that together is cool. It's just a network of fans, from fans who travel to all the shows or fans who have been around forever. They just kind of talk and have their own little network going on. I think it's really cool. Tons of people go to that site and check it out to see what's happening, and it's really cool of them to do.
WW: So back to the new album: Nothing official has been set yet?
TT: Yeah, after what happened last year, we had all this planned stuff. It was like, after the New Year's Eve shows, you know, take a week or two break, get into the studio, start writing, come out with something in the spring and then tour that all summer. You start planning all this stuff and setting dates, and that's just one thing that does not work. At least in our thing, creativity is something that naturally comes. You can force out a record, I guess, if you wanted to, if you want to put one out. But, if you're just really trying to be creative and let things flow naturally and put out the best thing you can, I don't think you can set dates and timelines and rush stuff out. I mean, if it comes in a week, great; if it takes a few months or whatever, it's just one of those things. You just don't know.
I got a funny story about Denver! One time, a long time ago, we were touring in a van and just playing for like ten, maybe fifteen people, whoever would show up. We made this crazy journey from Austin up the west coast to, like, Seattle across to Montana, Idaho and then we drove down to Denver. This was like three dudes in a van, not getting rooms, eating whatever, very little sleep -- except for van sleep -- very little food or hygiene.
We stopped into Denver, and we were a few hours early for sound check, and we stopped at a pizza place, and we walked in and all three got separate tables, Alex [sound guy], Aaron and I. The guy working behind the counter was like, "What are you guys brothers? Do you hate each other?" It was just funny because we were definitely sick of each other at that point, and he noticed that something was weird. He called it out. It was funny and made light of the situation. When you're stuck in a van for that long, you're just ready to go home. After that, we flew to get to Minneapolis the next day for a radio show, and they had the dates mixed up, so we were a day early. That was like the icing on the cake!
You know, Denver always sounds, for some reason, I don't know if it's the elevation or what, but man every time we've played Denver the sound like... slows down or something. We're playing all these shows and I know what the sound sounds like, and we get to Denver, and all the sudden it's like, "Dude, this thing's in slow motion." And I check the gauges, and it's right. It's weird. It's something weird, though. I don't know, but I always notice that!
Ghostland Observatory, with BOYHOLLOW, 9 p.m. Thursday, November 9, Ogden Theatre, 935 E. Colfax, $25, 303-830-8497.